Friday, May 11, 2007

APD, IRO strike deal on complaint against officer

By Maggie Shepard, Albuquerque Tribune

An Albuquerque police SWAT officer faces discipline for falsifying arrest documents, but has been exonerated on other charges leveled in a complaint last year.

The complaint filed with the Independent Review Office stemmed from a man's arrest in October on charges of littering and disobeying a police officer. It alleged that Officer Eric Brown made up a reason to justify the arrest.

Jay Rowland, the city's recently retired Independent Review Officer, investigated the complaint and sided with the civilian, but Police Chief Ray Schultz disagreed.

The differing views could have been brought before the volunteer Police Oversight Commission at its televised meeting Thursday night, but a last-minute deal between the Albuquerque Police Department and the review office kept the issue out of public view.

The deal concedes that Brown did falsify the documents, but not intentionally, said APD Internal Affairs Lt. Paul Feist.

It also concedes that the department's disciplinary plan for him is sufficient, said IRO investigator Trey Flynt.

Word of the agreement spread quickly through the audience, which was packed with Albuquerque police officers, including several of Brown's superiors.

Lt. Bob Huntsman, Brown's SWAT commander, said the two dozen SWAT team and bomb squad members came to the meeting to support their fellow officer.

Huntsman said he felt satisfied with the agreement, which has yet to be finalized by Schultz and must still go before the commission for final approval at its June meeting.

The police report of the incident says Brown found an American Indian man and his family parked in a handicap spot at a Wal-Mart.

Brown says in his report that "they obviously did not have any physical impairments."

He wrote that after he confronted the family, members yelled at him, accused him of racially profiling them and then one of the vehicle occupants tossed his gum on the ground. He only picked it up after several commands to do so, Brown wrote.

The report also says that when Brown suspected the man of being intoxicated, the man became belligerent and would not provide identification.

The woman in the car filed the complaint. It says the family showed Brown a handicap sticker for their son's illness, but that Brown continued to harass them using curse words to the point their children began to cry and bystanders began to ask if they were OK.

Feist and Flynt, representing the police and the IRO, respectively, agreed that Brown broke several rules in addition to falsifying documents, but was exonerated of other allegations in the complaint.

Discipline matters, including officers' names, are generally not made public by the Police Department; the oversight commission does not reveal officers' names.

Brown's name was found in several court and police documents related to the case.

In other news from the meeting:

The political stalemate between the City Council and Mayor Martin Chavez that has kept one commission seat vacant continued.

For at least the 12th time, commissioners heard the mayor's staff say he has submitted a candidate to represent Councilor Brad Winter's district on the commission and is waiting for the council to vote on it.

For at least the 12th time, commissioners heard City Council staff say the council rejected the mayor's candidate. The council maintains that the mayor must select one of Winter's two proposed candidates, and forward one for approval.

Chavez says the city charter allows him to pick whomever he wants, and this time it wasn't one from Winter - a political rival.

Newly selected Independent Review Officer William Deaton, up for confirmation at the next City Council meeting, did not attend.

Nor did his predecessor, Jay Rowland, who retired in April.

The commission gave Schultz its support in light of a recent police union action that may result in giving the chief a vote of no confidence.

Some union members started the process to denounce the chief in an April meeting. The final vote comes in about three weeks.

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